We all have our perspectives about how we see, sense and know our world. If we lock into our perspectives and dismiss others, we lose relevance and trust with those we work with. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes help us to break free from our perspectives. One excellent way to do that is to listen and suspend judgment.
Here is an example. In the late 1980’s, I was facilitating sexual harassment training to highway maintenance workers, all men. This was a time when women were beginning to work the more physical jobs beyond flaggers on highways. A number of men reacted to the women by sexually harassing them. As I began my training, I ran into a verbal assault by many men of not wanting to go through the training and accusing the women of being the problem. My perspective was these men were callous, judgmental, and were refusing to adapt to change. It became clear to me that if I went through my training, I would be run out of the shop. I had to shift my approach to build trust with the men if I was going to proceed.
I decided to shift my perspective and listen to what the men were experiencing. So, I paused, and asked them what they were experiencing. I sat and listened for about 20 minutes to their stories of what it was like to work side-by-side with women operating a jack hammer. Some of the men were in emotional turmoil or as they said, “My world has been turned upside down.” They felt their masculinity was attacked, damaged and called into question. I suspended judgment by repeating what I heard and empathized with what they were feeling. It opened my eyes to what the men were experiencing and changed my perspective.
Now, this did not condone their harassing behavior toward the women. But, what was I going to do to continue with my training session? It required another shift in perspective for the men. So, I asked them, “Raise your hand if you have a wife or adult daughter?” A number of hands went up. Then I asked, “What would your reaction be if your wife or adult daughter worked at a highway maintenance shop and were treated like how the women were treated here?” A number of the men expressed anger. Several said that their wife or daughter has the right to work any job they want without being harassed. I said that’s all the women want – the opportunity to do their jobs without being harassed. They want to be treated with respect just like you’d expect your wife or daughter to be treated.
I could see on a number of men’s faces a change of acceptance and agreement. Their perspectives change once the situation was personalized. They sensed I was not there to judge them. I listened to them and heard their concerns. We continued on with the training and I know some of the men changed their behavior for the better as a result.
Listen and suspend judgment can create trust and connection if we are mindful of the situation.